Is this a true statement?
How is terrorism defined? The normal definition is that terrorism is killing, harming, or threatening civilians for political purposes.
So, in a classic example, during the Franco-Algerian War, both the FLN and the French army placed bombs in civilian centers in order to frighten the population one way or the other, and send a political message.
Japan used terror when it bombed Pearl Harbor civilian structures, but not when it bombed the ships outside, since military items are legitimate targets of warfare.
Al Qaeda’s hijacking of civilian jets in 2001 and crashing them into civilian buildings was an act of terrorism that killed about 3,000 people.
The US is guilty of terrorism when it targets civilians as well.
Unfortunately, the US has a long record of deliberately targeting civilians in order to achieve political ends. The current drone war has regularly slaughtered civilians in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Particularly galling in this regard are the so-called return strikes, where the drone sends in a second missile after the rescuers have arrived, killing the aid workers and by-standers trying to help the victims. (For references and documentation, see below.)
In the last decade of the US waging war, the number of funerals and weddings that were bombed is strikingly high, often killing dozens at a time.
The US war in Afghanistan and Iraq has killed over one million, almost all of them civilians, injured several million more, and left at least four million people homeless. This can only be called terrorism.
Unfortunately, this record is in keeping with US history. In Vietnam, the US military killed 3-4 million, almost all of them civilians. Laos and Cambodia were bombed more heavily per square miles than any other place on earth, with eight million tons of bombs dropped on Indochina, mostly landing in civilian areas (Kissinger is on record as having delivered the military instructions to bomb “anything that moves” in Cambodia). The bombs used were especially inhumane varieties, including napalm, anti-personnel shrapnel bomblets, and white phosphorous. On top of this, the US also dumped 19 million gallons of toxic chemical defoliant over the land of Vietnam, ruining it for decades to come and massively poisoning the civilian populations there (which was the point, since the intent was to drive them into the cities).
During the 1980s, the US funded, armed, and directed terror squads in Latin America: in Guatemala, in Nicaragua, in Panama, in Cuba, and in El Salvador. The episodes are well-documented, but few Americans know much about them. In this case it is not the US military directing doing the terrorizing, but rather the funding of terrorists. The US gave hundreds of millions of dollars to what Reagan was then calling “our freedom fighters” in Latin America. In 1987, we gave 560 million dollars to keep the El Salvador dictatorship in power against the guerillas, since the dictatorship offered the US far more favorable business conditions. The dictatorship’s methods were to send out death squads to kill, rape, and pillage throughout the country until the opposition movement was crushed or terrorized into submission. The CIA famously offered to train them in terror methods, and were caught red-handed when some of the training manuals leaked to the US press, since they were training people to be better terrorists. Nicaragua finally brought there case to the world court, the ICJ, and won the case–but the US, too powerful to compel, just ignored it.
The single largest act of terrorism in world history was the dropping of nuclear bombs on civilians, instantly incinerating tens of thousands of people. Charred corpses of mothers holding their infants and school-children still holding their lunch boxes were strewn across the outer part of the blast radius. Closer inside the radius, the human bodies had just been vaporized, sometimes leaving their outline on the brick walls next to them. The chemical effects of the bombing would leave the areas in a toxic dungeon for decades, with devastating effect on human life.
The US record in World War II is particularly gory. Special bombs of gelatin and gasoline were designed to burn out civilian homes in Japan, since they were all wooden structures. The firebombing and resultant firestorm was so intense that it sucked the oxygen out of the sky, literally asphyxiating the civilians in the area. Civilians who had tried to escape by leaping into rivers and lakes were in for a worse fate, since they were literally boiled alive when the firestorm brought the water temperature above the boiling point. Such bombing raids were conducted over and over under General Curtis LeMay.
During the Korean War, 2-3 million Koreans were killed, nearly all of them civilians, and another 5 million people were left homeless. One hundred thousand children were left orphaned. 32,000 tons of napalm was dropped. In 1953, one of the very last acts of the war was to bomb out the irrigation dams in North Korea. A leading historian summarizes thus: “the subsequent floods scooped clean 27 miles of valley below. . . . The Westerner can little conceive the awesome meaning which the loss of [rice] has for the Asian–starvation and slow death.”
The descriptions above only scratch the surface. The most powerful state in the world has an equally powerful record of killing and injuring civilians across the globe. If we really aim to reduce terrorism in the world, controlling and dismantling our own state’s military apparatus is the central task.
US in Vietnam
See the very compelling testimony of combat veterans:
US terror in Iraq
It is difficult to accurately assess the precise level of the destruction of Iraq because the subject is poorly researched and the US refuses to count Iraqi civilian deaths. There are some studies, however. A few of them are compiled here.
On the subject of the terrorism of Iraqi civilians, there is plentiful evidence. One out of the countless episodes of terror unleashed upon Iraqi society happens to have been caught on video and released to the public. All of the people in the video below are civilians, and two of them turned out to be journalists. The van had a family inside it, including children.
Video starts at 2:45; the second massacre occurs at 8:30.
See also the compelling testimony of combat veterans regarding war crimes in Iraq.
The US has a prior record on terror in the region. See in particular the books by former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, and the important 1999 account of the US sanctions regime by Geoff Simons, The Scouraging of Iraq. In light of the fact that over 500,000 Iraqi children had died from the US-imposed starvation regime, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied in 1996 “we think the price is worth it.” Simons claims that by 1999 the human toll of the sanctions was over one million Iraqi civilians dead, most of them children (particularly vulnerable to disease and malnutrition).
US “low-intensity” conflict in Latin America
The Oliver Stone film Salvador captures some aspects of the situation there. Raymond Bonner, a journalist for the New York Times, wrote a compelling book, Weakness and Deceit, after having been the correspondent in El Salvador. Reed Brody’s 1985 book Contra Terror in Nicaragua, a summary report on a fact-finding mission, reveals the truth about the terrorist regime the US was funding there. Dianna Melrose’s book, The Threat of a Good Example?, produced for Oxfam, offers a glimpse of what was being accomplished before the terror regime crushed it. For Guatemala, see the excellent work of Susanne Jonas’s The Battle for Guatemala. For a summary view of the whole system, see Walter LaFeber’s Inevitable Revolutions. Other important works on US involvement in Latin America are Richard Immerman’s The CIA in Guatemala; Wayne Smith’s The Closest of Enemies, and the account of CIA involvement in Cuba in Warren Hinckle and William Turner’s Deadly Secrets. For an account of the Reagan administration’s funneling of arms and money to Latin America, see Leslie Cockburn’s Out of Control.
Excerpts from Samuel Walker’s Prompt and Utter Destruction:
[T]here is no doubt that the bomb created what one survivor called “the hell I had always read about.” within a radius of a half-mile or so, the force of the blast killed virtually everybody instantaneously. Further away from ground zero, the effects were somewhat less lethal… the bomb gave off a flash of intense heat that not only caused many deaths and severe injuries but also helped to form a huge and all-consuming firestorm.
The survivors of the blast and the heat were often horribly debilitated. Blinded by the flash, burned and blistered by the heat, cut beyond recognition by flying glass, those who could move stumbled through the darkness caused by dust, smoke, and debris. It was common to see people whose skin was hanging off their bodies, as a result of the thermal flash and the heat that together caused severe blistering and tearing of the skin. Charred corpses were everywhere… 77-78.
[there has been] a widely held myth about the decision to use atomic bombs against Japan–the belief that Truman had to choose between, on the one hand, authorizing attacks on Japanese cities with atomic bombs or, on the other hand, ordering an invasion. […]
In fact, however, Truman never faced a categorical choice between the bomb and an invasion that would cost hundreds of thousands of American lives. […] the historical evidence makes clear that the popular view about the use of the bomb is a mythological construct for the following reasons: (1) there were other options available for ending the war within a reasonably short time without the bomb and without an invasion; (2) Truman and his key advisers believed that Japan was so weak that the war could end before an invasion began, that is, they did not regard an invasion as inevitable; and (3) even in the worst case, if an invasion of Japan proved to be necessary, military planners in the summer of 1945 projected the number of American lives lost at far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that Truman and his advisers claimed after the war. 6
Further important references on Hiroshima and the bombing of Indochina include Marilyn Young et al., Bombing Civilians; Mark Seldon’s several books; and the book Among the Dead Cities; as well as the important books of John Dower.
On the US bombing of Tokyo
The full fury of firebombing and napalm was unleashed on the night of March 9-10, 1945, when [General Curtis] LeMay sent 334 B-29s low over Tokyo from the Marianas. Their mission was to reduce the city to rubble, kill its citizens, and instill terror in the survivors, with jellied gasoline and napalm that would create a sea of flames. Stripped of their guns to make more room for bombs, […] the bombers carried two kinds of incendiaries: M-47s, 100-pound oil gel bombs, 182 per aircraft, each capable of starting a major fire, followed by M-69s packing 6-pound gelled-gasoline bombs, 1,520 per aircraft […]. The attack, on an area that the US Strategic Bombing Survey estimated to be 84.7 percent residential, succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of air force planners. Whipped by fierce winds, flames generated by the bombs leaped across a fifteen-square-mile area of Tokyo, generating immense firestorms […].
Police Cameraman Ishikawa Koyo described the streets of Tokyo as “rivers of fire… flaming pieces of furniture exploding in the heat, while the people themselves blazed like matchsticks as their wood and paper homes exploded in flames. Under the wind and the gigantic breath of the fire, immense incandescent vortices rose in a number of places, swirling, flattening, sucking whole blocks of houses into their maelstrom of fire.”[…]
Nature reinforced man’s handiwork in the form of akakaze, the red wind that swept with hurricane force across the Tokyo plain and propelled firestorms that drove temperatures up to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, creating superheated vapors that advanced ahead of the flames, killing or incapacitating their victims. […]
The Strategic Bombing Survey [recorded that] “The chief characteristic of the conflagration … was the presence of a fire front, an extended wall of fire moving to leeward, preceded by a mass of pre-heated, turbid, burning vapors…. an extended fire swept over 15 square miles in 6 hours… The area of the fire was nearly 100 percent burned; no structure or its contents escaped damage.
The Survey concluded–plausibly, but only for events prior to August 6, 1945, that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any time in the history of man… The largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children, and the elderly.” (83-83).
US support of Latin American terror
An excerpt from Raymond Bonner’s book:
In the year preceding Reagan’s first certification (January 28, 1982) that the Salvadoran government was making a serious effort to respect human rights, 13,353 Salvadorans had been murdered by the Salvadoran Army, security forces, and paramilitary groups, according to the archdiocese’s legal aid office. There had been the massacres at the Rio Lempa, Cabanas, Mozote, the small-unit sweeps through Soyapango and Armenia, the decapitations in Santa Ana. And three days after the President had issued his certification, a patrol of soldiers from the First Infantry Brigade attacked San Antonio Abad, a warren of mud huts and tin shacks.
…The army said there had been a shoot-out with “subversives.” But the slum residents and a nun said that the soldiers, accompanied by several men with hoods, arrived during the still-dark morning hours and went house to house, dragging out people dressed in their underwear or without shoes and socks. Many were shot in the back of the head or the heart. Among at least twenty victims were a fifty-seven-year-old couple and their twenty-two-year-old son. The soldiers raped three sisters, ages sixteen, fourteen, and thirteen, and shot their twenty-year-old brother. (Bonner 334-339, 344-345.)
An excerpt from the 1986 judgment of the International Court of Justice against the United States:
. . . Decides that the United States of America, by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State
…Decides that the United States of America, by certain attacks on Nicaraguan territory in 1983-1984, namely attacks on Puerto Sandino on 13 September and 14 October 1983, an attack on Corinto on 10 October 1983; an attack on Potosi Naval Base on 4/5 January 1984, an attack on San Juan del Sur on 7 March 1984; attacks on patrol boats at Puerto Sandino on 28 and 30 March 1984; and an attack on San Juan del Norte on 9 April 1984; and further by those acts of intervention referred to in subparagraph (3) hereof which involve the use of force, has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to use force against another State;
…Decides that, by laying mines in the internal or territorial waters of the Republic of Nicaragua during the first months of 1984, the United States of America has acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligations under customary international law not to use force against another State, not to intervene in its affairs, not to violate its sovereignty and not to interrupt peaceful maritime commerce
…Finds that the United States of America, by producing in 1983 a manual entitled “Operaciones sicológicas en guerra de guerrillas”, and disseminating it to contra forces, has encouraged the commission by them of acts contrary to general principles of humanitarian law; but does not find a basis for concluding that any such acts which may have been committed are imputable to the United States of America as acts of the United States of America.